By Alan Hiron
BM February 1990
Nico Gardener (originally Goldinger) died on December 10 after a long illness.
He was, until his retirement nine years ago, perhaps Britain’s best-known bridge teacher. He founded the famous London School of Bridge in 1952 and enjoyed an active part of its running until he handed over to Nicola (his daughter). During his tenure there were many distinguished players on the staff - Alan Truscott, John Collings, Pedro and Jane Juan (later Priday), Jack Marx, Norman Squire, the Sharples twins and even your editor who first started in 1962 and was rewarded with the princely sum of 18s (£0.90) for his first evening’s work.
He had not set out in life with the intention of teaching bridge. The 1914-18 war and the Russian revolution had meant moves from Riga to the Ukraine and then Moscow, where he trained as a ballet dancer. The family had been split up and in the aftermath of the war he finally tracked down his father in Berlin. There he went to school and later Berlin University to read languages and history. He already had three languages, Latvian, Russian and then German; his politically motivated move to London in 1936 meant that English was added. (Much later, on a bridge-teaching cruise for a distinctly cosmopolitan clientele, he lectured separately in English, French and Italian. A small German contingent complained and they enjoyed an extra session in accent less German.)
His bridge career started in London. With some capital in reserve he started to play, becoming a steady winner at a low-stake game. He was invited to coach a distinguished peer who was a steady loser at a high-stake game. This proved a great success and other teaching contracts followed: then came the idea of starting a bridge school.
Following an American trend he approached P & O about bridge cruises, first as a part-time lecturer then as host on dedicated bridge cruises. At one time he was spending over six months a year at sea on worldwide trips. Few countries and ports remained unvisited - even Riga, where he was greeted by the customs official inspecting his passport with “Welcome home, comrade!”
As a tournament player he won the Gold Cup no fewer than six times, represented Britain five times in the European Championships (winning twice), two World Championships and two Olympiads. He was a member of the team that won the 1962 World Mixed Teams.
As a bridge author Gardener co-operated with the late Victor Mollo in writing Card Play Technique (1955) and Bridge for Beginners (1956). Both are regarded as classics.
Nico Gardener was famed for his immaculate attire and carnation buttonhole. On arriving with him to play a match in Belfast, a host politely inquired how we had travelled. “Most of us came by Aer Lingus,” replied a wit, “but Nico came by Interflora.”
We all enjoyed his company and his jokes. He will be greatly missed by all his friends in the bridge world and the many, many thousands of students of the game who attended both his classes and his cruises over the years of his teaching career.
He leaves one daughter, Nicola, as well-known to the bridge fraternity as Nico was himself, and two grandchildren.
Major International Appearances
European Championships: 1950* 1951 1953 1957 and 1961*
Bermuda Bowl: 1950 and 1962
World Olympiad: 1960
* = 1st place
Camrose Trophy Selections: 1946 1949 1950 1954 1959 1961 1962 1963 1965 1967 1968 1970 and 1971
Gold Cup Winner: 1946 1951 1954 1958 1967 1968 and 1970
Crockfords Winner: 1947 1948 1954 1956 and 1957
Autumn Congress Two Stars Pairs Winner: 1946 and 1964
The Hubert Phillips Bowl Winner: 1954
National Pairs winner: 1952
Tollemache Cup winner: 1953 and 1961